It's longer than you might think.
With that in mind, we reached out to the people behind the popular weight-loss app Lose It! to get more real-world numbers.
According to their data, the average Lose It! users lost 10 pounds in about seven weeks, and 90 percent of their users who lost 10 pounds did it in less than 13 weeks.
It’s definitely good to hear that it takes most people longer than five weeks to drop 10 pounds (you're not alone if the scale seems stuck!), and that it’s also doable within three months or so. But if you’re trying to drop 10 pounds, it’s important to keep this in mind: Everyone moves at their own pace.
“There are calculations to predict the calorie deficit needed for someone to lose a pound of weight. However in reality, people lose weight as different rates,” says Beth Warren, R.D.N., founder of Beth Warren Nutrition and author of Living a Real Life With Real Food.
Fatima Cody Stanford, M.D., instructor of medicine and pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and obesity medicine physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, agrees. “It’s not the rate of weight loss that matters, per se,” she says. “It’s the sustainability of the weight loss.” People who are obese, for example, might lose weight at a very fast rate, she says, while others with less excess weight to lose may move at a slower pace—and the actual rate doesn’t matter as much as someone’s ability to keep the weight off.
While it’s tempting to want to drop weight quickly, Warren says it’s important to manage your expectations and go about it in a smart, healthy way. Losing weight through unhealthy methods could just burn off water and muscle weight, which you’ll quickly gain back, she says.
Scott Keatley, R.D., of Keatley Medical Nutrition Therapy, recommends starting with small changes before moving on to a new challenge. For example, you might want to try eliminating your late-night snacking habit and adding a serving of vegetables to every meal before trying an entirely new diet plan. "Many patients want to do everything all at once to lose the weight but it's generally not feasible and people give up after a brief period of time only to gain more weight back," he says.
If you’re not losing at the pace you’d like, Warren says there’s likely something—or several things—tripping you up. “I often find with clients that they may not be losing as fast as they can because of small allowance they are making,” she says. That can mean having portions that are too large, eating pasta or bread at all meals and during a snack, eating too much later in the day or at night, or treating yourself too often. “Typically, if someone is already trying to lose weight, there isn't one glaring issue,” she says. “Instead there may be multiple small points to adjust over the course of the day concerning their diet.”
Whatever you’re trying to do for weight loss, Stanford says it’s important to make sure that it’s sustainable. “Often patients will say that they want to try a certain diet or exercise plan, but I say that if this works for you, you’re going to have to do it for the rest of your life,” she says. Losing weight on a special diet only to regain it can put your body at a higher set point for weight, she explains—and that can make it even harder to lose it all again. “It’s important to ask, ‘is this going to be sustainable indefinitely?’ If not, reconsider the approach,” Stanford says. “Make sure it’s something you can continue forever.”
If you’ve already lost the weight and want to make sure you keep it off, Warren recommends keeping a food log and striving to work out regularly. “The reality is that after you lose the weight you want you look to be more flexible on food choices,” she says. “By keeping a food log, it keeps you on track to notice when you are allowing yourself too many less healthful choices or bigger portions too often.” Working out regularly also helps you balance out your flexible food choices without making you feel guilty for it, she says.
Of course, people lose weight at different paces. If you notice that a friend is losing at a faster rate than you, don’t get discouraged—you’ll get there eventually, too, and doing it your way will help you keep it off.